Learning About Wind Turbine Technology, Motors and Generators

Hi all, my name is Steve Wik and I’ve been at GE Global Research since joining the Edison program in January 2012.  This week I’ll be talking to you about one of the latest subjects taught in the program’s A course, Electric Machines.  In a recent post, Dave Shoudy talked to you about the course on Power Electronics, which is a great subject to segue into a course on Electric Machines as the two go hand-in-hand.  “Electric Machines” is a very broad term which covers a large number of products at GE, but it mainly consists of different variations of motors and generators.

Motors are used to convert electric energy from the grid into mechanical energy and can be found in dozens of products in every home.  From large-scale appliances like washers, dryers, and dish washers to small-scale everyday items like fans, hair dryers, and electric toothbrushes, motors are everywhere in our daily lives.

Generators are very similar to motors, however in terms of energy flow they operate in the opposite direction, converting mechanical energy into electrical energy which is then put onto the grid for electrical consumption by homes or industry.

The power electronics we learned about in our previous course are what’s used to convert electrical energy between the grid and motors/generators, as we learned that every design for an electric machine is different in terms of its input or output voltage and frequency.  Without power electronics to convert between different forms of A/C and D/C electrical energy it would be impossible for today’s electric machines to work.  It was fascinating for me, as an electrical engineer focused on topics outside of electric machines, to learn about the physics behind motors and generators.  It is hard to believe that this technology has been around for well over a hundred years and that GE engineers at Global Research and other sites around the world are still working hard on new designs.

One of our instructors for the course was Ruben Fair, an experienced senior engineer from the Electrical Machines Lab here at Global Research.  I sat down with Ruben after the class to ask him about his past experiences in the field and learn about some of the projects he’s worked on.  Ruben’s career in electric machines has included several projects over the years all over the world, from his work on hydrogenerators in Norway, Sweden, Wales and Scotland in the late 80s/early 90s to work on a 21.1 Tesla Superconducting Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Magnet in Oxford, UK during the late 90s/early 2000s used for research into cancer treatments.  A picture of this can be seen below.

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More recently and before coming to GE, Ruben was part of a group at Converteam, a business recently acquired by GE, which constructed the world’s first high-temperature superconducting (HTS) hydrogenerator.  This proof-of-concept design was able to greatly improve overall efficiency over conventional designs and was considered innovative enough to win the IET Innovation Award in 2009, a highly sought after accomplishment in Europe. This clip shows Ruben testing the rotor for this machine.

Recently, since coming to Global Research, Ruben has been working on a number of exciting projects including a low temperature superconducting (LTS) direct drive wind turbine generator able to produce up to 10MW of power.

As you may have guessed, Ruben has had the opportunity to work on a number of diverse, interesting projects in his career up to now, and he’s excited about what he’ll be able to achieve at Global Research in the future!  The students in his lecture were lucky to learn from someone with such great real-world experience and first-hand knowledge on the inner workings of motors and generators.

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That’s all for now, folks.  If you have any questions for Ruben or myself please feel free to leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading!

- Steve

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